View From the Table

The air in the room was comfortable. A soft, smoky, and warm air that rested on top of him like a perfect fitting hat – to the point where you forget it is even there. The lights were warm and yellow, and it was impossible not to be reminded of the sun. The music? An eclectic mix of Spanish, French, and Italian music that moved from one to another seamlessly like one long, continuous song. The mixed sounds of heated conversation and laughter echoed off the walls and decided to mix with the notes of the music. On the walls, giant paintings were intertwined with glass mirrors that had dark black trim – making the room feel larger and brighter than it should have.

An ugly woman bounced from table to table whispering in a husky voice, “Another drink”? Her short bangs clipped in a hurried, indiscriminant manner showed more of her face than anyone wanted to see. But the drinks were strong and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Except for him. He was sitting there in a bizarre state of boredom. A level of boredom that moved from enjoyable to painful so quickly and unevenly that he had to stop and think for a moment to tell if he should be upset or just feel numb. In one of the longer bouts of self-struggle – leaning towards numb – the ugly woman popped out of nowhere and startled him. In a moment he drifted back to boredom and ordered another glass of sangria without even knowing he had done so.

As he sat reading in the corner, the café doors were pulled open by a thirsty crowd of twenty somethings, a group of seven or eight. There were three woman that were at the end as they entered, all very pretty. The first was short, perky, and had straight, sun-dyed blonde hair. The second was medium sized and had striking green eyes with vivid red hair. And the third, she entered a second after all of the others. As she moved through the doorway the sun was momentarily blocked by a nebula or cloud, and a long shadow fell over her face and figure.

For the first time in a long time his interest was peaked. Swallowing a sip of his tart drink he sat upright and leaned forward, peering with more interest than he had given to anything in the longest time. Somehow awakened from his previous state the only thing that mattered now was to see what she looked like. Had just had to know. Oh how he needed to know!

Now tingling with new sensations, his heart kicked into life and started beating faster and faster. He felt great – better than he could ever remember. And he had not even seen her face, only her outlined silhouette. Still blocked from his view: he watched as the entire group pulled tables and chairs together, sat down laughing and ordered a round of beer.

Reading his book and looking at the same sentence over and over, his mind was imagining her face. He set the open book facedown and his hand scratched out a drawing on a plain napkin. The pencil strokes captured almost all of her face: round and with tiny dimples when she smiled or winced, dark brown eyes and long wavy hair that was even more dark and coffee colored. He could even tell she had a certain gracefulness and balance. Considering what he would say if he ever did get a chance, he stood up from the table.

He thought it over while he stood in front of the mirror and slowly scrubbed his hands with a worn bar of soap that smelled of burnt vanilla. Finally ready and confident – he knew just what he would say. He wiped his hands with force and purpose and opened the door – a quickness and lightness to his step. He sat down at his table and looked back out across the room. He felt nervous so he took a long, luxurious sip of sangria and out of the corner of his eye he saw that she was gone. Gone? No. It wasn’t possible he thought.

Scanning the room now with a panic he looked from wall to wall. She was nowhere in sight. Oh no! The group of twentysomethings were all still there sitting and laughing, slamming their beer glasses onto the table. They carried on and on as if she had never been sitting there – her chair pushed out away from the group like it did not matter.

But it did matter! She had to be coming back he thought. Shoving himself into the back of his chair. He opened his book only for the cover it gave him while he looked and looked for her. At one point the ugly woman with short bangs lifted the empty chair and slid it under a new table.

Now it was as if she had never come in at all. Unable to take the agony, he needed to know where she went and if she would return. He stood up, left a handsome tip and started for the group’s table. As he approached they all fell silent and looked at him, “Where is your friend?” They looked back with blank stares and he continued, “Your friend. The last girl who entered?” Again they peered back with empty faces and he became furious. Staring at the small perky girl and then into the green eyes of the second, he saw they would not answer him. He kicked the chair where she had been sitting as he rushed out the door and down a damp side street.

The table roared with laughter and they ordered round after round. Making fun of the older man was easy. What a lunatic they all thought. Drunk with bright smiles they never thought of him again

When the bar had closed the ugly waitress began flipping chairs onto the table and the bartender wiped down wet glasses and placed them back onto the shelf. When the waitress came to the last table, she found his book sitting on its cover and did not bother to read what it said. She lifted the book and out fell a slightly crinkled napkin. There was nothing on the napkin and she put up the last chair, turned off the lights and locked the door behind her.

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